She has a bad cold," said Terry Downes, looking with concern in the direction of his 2-year-old daughter, Wendy. He took out his handkerchief and applied it knowingly to Wendy's nose. Then he instructed her to go away so he could "talk with this man."
Wendy was crushed by her daddy's offhand banishment and began to bawl. Terry immediately relented, took her in his arms and cuddled her tenderly. Under these ministrations, Wendy's tears soon subsided and Terry, calling on that well-known parental escape hatch, said: "Go look at television. Go tell me if Yogi Bear is on." Wendy padded off toward the set blaring in an adjoining room. "And turn it down," he shouted after her.
This was England's Terry Downes at home, middleweight champion of that sizable portion of the world outside the National Boxing Association's domain, scheduled to defend his title against Paul Pender in Boston on April 7, confident that if he beats Pender he will meet the NBA's champion, Gene Fullmer, within 90 days for the undisputed championship of the world.
Downes lives in Willesden in northwest London. It is a homey place: hedges, plot of grass, wooden gate painted green, flagstone walk bordered with flowers, two small cars in the driveway; within, roominess, central heating and tasteful, present-day furnishings.
February 5, 1962
In these surroundings Downes was a convincingly domesticated being, and rather proud of it, too. "I'm really a stay-at-home bloke," he said. His blocky cockney accent, normally prominent in his talk, was hardly noticeable.
"I go on the road in the morning, early," he went on, "come home, rest and have some breakfast. If I'm not in the gym in the afternoon, I go to my betting shops [legal bookmaking operations for off-track betting]. I have two of them, with my manager, Sam Burns. Even if I'm in training I try to get to the shops before the end of the day's racing. When it's your own money they're fiddling with, you like to be around, don't you? After we figure up, I come home, have my supper, squat down in front of the television like anyone else, I suppose, and—well, that's my lot. It isn't much, is it? But I respect what I have, the title and all, without making a big thing of it. I like it here." An all-encompassing wave of his hand indicated that "here" meant the family realm.
The other Terry
Away from this, in contrast, Downes's public face is that of a brash, glib young man in the cheeky cockney tradition. It is not necessarily false. He has, indeed, a "presence" and an inherent sense of publicity, as when he goes about the land tossing off eminently publishable phrases about his tender "hooter" (nose) and the vagaries of boxing officials and officialdom in America, particularly Boston. He also can fight a bit, as they say. A British journalist, in a set piece of English insularity, has extolled him as "an immortal of boxing." Terry is hardly that, and he knows it. He is, though, that rare specimen in contemporary British pugilism; namely, a colorful and "authentic" fighter, and he knows this, too.
Little of this other Downes was showing during the at-home. Tea and cake had been served on delicate china by his wife, Barbara. Wendy was now completely engrossed by the smarter-than-the-average bear, and Terry was settled back in his chair, talking about his title and his times.
"Over here," he said, "we don't reckon two middleweight champions. We don't care if the NBA recognizes Gene Fullmer or some guy in Japan. If those people in America can't follow their own rules, we don't care. Our commission says that there's one champion—me—and don't come telling them about another one."
This recognition of sorts and his celebrity's timbre puts a special burden on Downes—in peculiarly British circumstances. The British sports fan, prodded by an all-seeing press, tends to overlionize all his athletes, but particularly his fighters—probably because there are so few good ones. The "few," accordingly, are toasted and tempted beyond reasonableness. And since boxers as a breed are not renowned for restraint it takes a steady hand to survive the plaudits and parties.
A present example of one who has wavered is Terry Spinks, a darling of the fight set since he won the Olympic flyweight championship for Great Britain in Melbourne in 1956. Spinks, now a professional, has recently been overweight and under fire from the British Boxing Board of Control because of, as one man wrote it, his liking for "money and girls, ginger pop and jam tarts.... " This standard-curious combination, apparently, makes for British fighters la dolce vita.
Downes is surviving. He consumes neither pop nor tarts, his attentions to women are confined to Barbara and Wendy and he is putting his money to work. He owns some rental properties and is planning to go in on two more betting shops. ("The name on the door helps a bit," he said.) For him, in short, la vita casalinga—the home life—is the thing. Owning the title has not made it necessarily more dolce, or, for that matter, less casalinga.
"I'll make an appearance...charity show, bazaar, things like that, when I'm asked," he said, "but I can only go once to each place. I go to the big fights for a bow; you have to let people know you're around—not that I worry about it. Like the other day. I was stopped at a traffic light and a big Rolls, chauffeur and all, pulled up beside me. You know how you look at one of those deals. Well, I looked, and the man in the back seat waved at me. I didn't recognize him. I figured he probably was one of the guys who sits at ringside at my fights, so I waved back. Then when he pulled away I saw from the initials on his plate that he was this big building tycoon, one of the richest men in the country. I said to myself, I remember, I said: 'You should wave at me, mate. Couple of years and you won't even know who Terry Downes is.' I don't mind, though. I got what I want. Home. Family. Security. Everything's paid for. When I quit, I shouldn't have any worries."
Downes's present concern is getting on with his title defense in Boston with Paul Pender. For one reason, he has ¬£20,000 (¬£8,000 of his own, ¬£12,000 of an "associate's") tied up until he fulfills the return-bout commitment with Pender. The third match in the series (Downes was stopped by Pender in Boston in January 1961, then won in London in July when Pender "retired" after nine rounds) was originally scheduled for Boston last September. It was postponed when Downes developed a seriously infected left thumb from a simple happening.
"I couldn't make a fist," Terry said, "and I wasn't even going to the gym. I couldn't punch the bag. I heard that Sam Silverman [Boston promoter for the match] said the fight was on for January 20. Well, Sam would have had to fight Pender himself, because I wasn't going to Boston until I was ready. It's bad enough fighting there with two fists, let alone one."
Now the thumb is healed and Terry is ready, and the match is set for April 7. Was he wary about the third meeting?
"I admit Pender is a bit better boxer than I am," Downes said, "but I'm younger and stronger and I can hit harder. He probably.... "
The forecast was interrupted. Yogi Bear and compatriots had finished, and now Wendy was back. Barbara joined the group. Much to her parents' pleasure, Wendy took over the scene.
"What was the name of the man Daddy fought?" Barbara asked Wendy, then explained, in an aside: "She saw pictures of Terry and Pender and just like that"—snap of the fingers—"she picked out her daddy. Come on, now, Wendy. What was the man's name?"
"Pen-der," Wendy said, and scowled. "Naughty Pen-der."
"And what did he do to Daddy?" Terry prompted.
"Naughty Pen-der," said Wendy, "hit Daddy on nose."
"What do you think of that!" Terry said, rocking back in his chair, laughing. "Isn't that something?"
The man had joined the family circle. Business talk was done.